Ramadan is here and Muslims all over the world will be fasting this month. Saudi-Arabia turns into a much more accommodating place for fasting people to live during the holy month. There are many exceptions in everyday life that enable easier days of fasting, especially for Saudis it seems.
Other fasting Muslims on the other hand and the millions of non-Muslims working in Saudi-Arabia might not live this month as smoothly as the Saudis do. Ramadan in Saudi is certainly a very different experience for a Saudi, a Muslim and a non-Muslim.
Less work, more spending
There are millions of non-Muslims living and working in Saudi-Arabia that are greatly affected by the holy month.
Almost all opening hours of business will change, stores will open only from late afternoon up until 2 am. This of course means heavy traffic in the evenings and not much to do during the day for the people who aren’t fasting. Schools start later for Muslims and there are less working hours for Muslim employees. Researches have found that the productivity in Muslim countries decreases almost by 50- 80% during Ramadan but on the other hand markets grow due to increased spending and giving charity.
Who does the work during Ramadan?
At the workplace the non-Muslim employees are discriminated against in many ways. Starting with working hours, non-Muslims work like in any other month while the Muslims work less total days and have shorter hours. This discrimination sometimes brings discord to the workplaces.
Muslims might take more breaks during the day, arrive late or leave early. This is generally not frowned upon as long as they are Saudis. Other nationalities even if fasting, will be expected to abide strictly to the working hours.
In the hospital where I worked only the Saudi employees were allowed to leave the workplace during prayer times. Sometimes an employee might have been absent for an hour during prayer time. Especially the male employees seemed to do this because they would go out to the hospital mosque unlike the female employees who prayed in empty rooms.
All this might add up to the Saudi employee spending almost half less time at the workplace than the other employees during Ramadan.
Or at least that is how it seems to those left behind at the workplace to do the job while the Saudis are gone.
The non-Muslim employees might feel they are forced to do most of the work because the fasting colleagues are resting or absent. The fasting workers are exempt from the physically heaviest chores.
No one dares to complain about a Saudi colleague, they have a sort of untouchable status at the workplace.
Another phenomenon that might make Ramadan a less pleasant experience for those not fasting is the expectation that all non-Muslims must eat and drink in secrecy during the daylight hours. At the hospital for example even keeping water bottles visible was viewed as almost criminal activity. I think it’s strange that kind of culture exists that everyone else must change their normal daily routines so that the fasting Muslims won’t get offended by the sight of food, when all over the rest of the world and other Muslim countries Muslims fast successfully while the world continues at the same pace. There are also many Muslims who are not fasting because they are exempt, the pregnant women, elderly, children, people with illnesses and breastfeeding women.
I have witnessed how this behavior made some people feel humiliated, discriminated against and it doesn’t exactly indicate religious tolerance either. Thankfully I witnessed that many of the fasting Muslims themselves, especially those from Western origins, thought the “rule” of hiding food was unnecessary, even ridiculous and had no effect on their fast or self-discipline anyways. Many of these Muslims told me it’s another cultural “Saudi rule”, not a religion based one.
The toughest Ramadan?
What about the housemaids and drivers? Their month must be the toughest of all especially if they happen to be fasting. Sadly the maids are often the ones having to take care and feed the children during the daytime while the fasting mothers are sleeping through the day. In the afternoons the maids are preparing the food for the family and likely guests too. Evenings and nights they cater to and clean up after the iftar parties. Some families even send their maids to their relatives houses for extra work. When do they have the chance to sleep?
The drivers don’t have it mush easier. Their working hours become longer and they might be forced to skip their night sleep because of family members needing rides to shopping malls or friends houses in the middle of the night.
Naturally there are also Saudi families like my husbands that give their maids extra money or gifts and more free-time during this month, but in general there is a lot more work during Ramadan for the housemaids.
In any case Ramadan is an exceptional month and an ordeal for everyone living in the Kingdom. For some, like the overworked maids, it may be like a nightmare while to others an enjoyable nightly party.